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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Taoiseach: Troubles ‘amnesty’ would breach human rights

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

A CONTROVERSIAL proposal by Northern Ireland's attorney general to end prosecutions in Troubles-related murders would breach international human rights, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

Many relatives of those killed during the conflict by republican and loyalist paramilitaries and state forces have expressed outrage at the suggestion by John Larkin QC that perpetrators yet to be caught should not face justice.

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of Northern Ireland's largest political party the Democratic Unionists, said the idea amounted to an amnesty.

Fine Gael leader Mr Kenny said: "I think this would be in contravention of human rights. People have internationally a right to know. They have a right to find out and where (members of) the state were involved, there must be an investigation."

He added: "From my perspective down here as Taoiseach, clearly this is a matter of international human rights...and if the hand of justice points incontrovertibly following court cases to individuals then justice has to take its course."

Mr Larkin, chief legal adviser to the power-sharing ministerial Executive, also advocated ruling out further inquests and inquiries into crimes committed during the 30-year conflict, insisting a line should be drawn on offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear the Government had no plans to legislate on any form of amnesty.

Mr Robinson said the attorney general's proposal would allow people to get away with murder.

He told the BBC that victims of the Troubles had a right to expect prosecutions.

"Equally, I don't want to see those who have been the perpetrators feel that they can live the rest of their lives without the fear that they might one day be made accountable and amenable for the crimes they have committed," he said.

"In other societies they don't say 'we're not going to go after murderers any more because the years have passed by'."

"I oppose what the attorney general is saying."

Niall Murphy, a Belfast lawyer specialising in human rights cases, said the proposals were incompatible with and repugnant to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right to life.

As of September, 38 inquests were running involving 65 deaths, with only five having been completed.

Alleged cases of shooting to kill by members of the security forces are among matters being considered by coroners.

Mr Murphy said: "Yet here we have the Attorney General seeking to come in and rescue the state actors from examination with this moratorium on the past."

He said the Attorney General has managed to create a political consensus with all parties joined in their condemnation and rejection of the proposal.

"Few initiatives in this jurisdiction manage to engender cross-party support, especially on a topic as divisive as dealing with the past."

He said the Attorney General wanted to cease all inquests and inquiries as "balance" for the proposition that there be no criminal prosecutions, on the basis that inquests disproportionately focus on state activities, whereas paramilitaries will benefit the most from a stay of prosecutions.

"But the statistics do not lend themselves to balance. Mr Larkin himself asserts that the prospect of successful prosecutions recedes with time," he said.

"There have however been three successful HET (Historical Enquiries Team which probes unresolved conflict killings) referred prosecutions so it is a fact that successful prosecutions can happen."

He said there were yet to be prosecutions of some agents of the state, despite the findings of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday and detailed evidence of collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane by loyalists.

Mr Murphy added: "It is not unreasonable to speculate that state actors may have more to benefit from a stay on prosecutions than non-state actors.

"That there should be an immediate stay on inquests and inquiries as a matter of balance is difficult to comprehend."

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